Cooking class helps cross language barriers at Community School

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Lessons in making lemonade and strawberry shortcake are having benefits beyond making taste buds happy.

Community School teachers Molly Curren and Kelly Bishop have been running a weekly cooking class for ELL students struggling with the language. They come from countries such as Egypt, India, Lebanon, Bespangle, and El Salvatore, and every Friday they assemble in the downstairs classroom to go over recipes and participate in the creative process. The class—which began last September—started with the names of foods and utensils they’d use. As the students learned, they began to take on a large role, and now offer ideas on how to change or improve the final product.

“Cooking lends itself to English learners,” said Curren.

The class is connected the curriculum, said Curren, with students learning about seasonal dishes in the United States, the culture, and new words. She and Bishop would gently correct the class when they make mistakes and show them the correct spelling or pronunciation of words such as dissolve, customize, and garnish. Curren said many of the children’s parents work in or own restaurants and so they bring much from that aspect of their lives to the lessons.

Over the last few years, Curren said she’s seen a number of new students and some have signigicant problems learning English. But they’ve learned quickly, she said, and many are now fluent. In one instance, the school’s service dog scared some of the ELL students. To help them overcome this fear, they made dog treats. 

“Their vocabulary grows every day,” said Curren.

Students in the school’s ELL program have many classes with Curren and Bishop, but also take part in those with the rest of the students. Curren said the classes have also helped with the students’ writing skills and provided a boost to their conference. 

“These kids bring so much and their families bring so much to the community,” said Curren.